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I hear a lot of controversy about Wikipedia.

  1. Sep 27, 2006 #1

    Pythagorean

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    I hear a lot of controversy about Wikipedia. I'm curious what kind of support people have for their arguments for or against it as a resource (for academia and career).

    I've found it useful several times, myself, and a lot of information I've never been able to find before is now available. The information may or may not be completely accurate, but it gives me a place to start discussion from, where (After a lot of discussion and more research) the information can be fine-tuned.
     
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  3. Sep 27, 2006 #2

    J77

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    I think one problem is that you get a few people controlling a given page, for example, if you edit a page it's generally the same people who delete your revision/addition.

    This runs into problems with new, possibly 'crackpot', and specific ideas in, say, physics.

    I think wiki is good for a quick glance but like everything of its kind on the web including message boards such as PF, you mustn't take anything as gospel.
     
  4. Sep 27, 2006 #3

    Astronuc

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    Wikipedia is a place to start, but it is important to realize that it is open and that anyone who is regsitered can write an article. I have read some glaring errors of which someone unfamiliar with the subject would be unaware.

    The concept is great, but it is necessary to verify information (cross-reference) with which one is unfamiliar.
     
  5. Sep 27, 2006 #4
    That's the first place I go to when I need information, but as you said, it's a place where one starts the journey. There can be nothing inaccurate about the links which are provided (in most cases, at least), and of course, you can google new terms/words/names that you come acorss for further info.

    In some sense, Wiki is better than EB; unlike the latter, information is not restricted (i.e., I find a lot more things in a certain article that wouldn't normally make it to the EB), it is regularly updated, and also tells you when it is being done so.

    The downside to Wiki is quite obvious.
     
  6. Sep 27, 2006 #5
    The more I learn about wikipedia the more I dislike it. It is a fun place to go to for information, especially about silly unimportant things, but wikipedia is definitely not an academically reliable source.
     
  7. Sep 27, 2006 #6
    I'm particularly umimpressed with the physics topics. The jargon used is far too advanced to be any use in explaining a subject to someone who doesn't already know all about it. Wiki subject areas tend to be overtaken by a certain small core of users who often have downright draconian views over how to arrange material; and simply revert anything posted by anyone new.
     
  8. Sep 27, 2006 #7
    of course wikipedia is not a 100% reliable source.

    Neither is britannica. Nor textbooks. Nor scientific publications.

    Everything you could possibly read, can contain errors, misrepresentations, and deliberate falsehoods. It's not being paranoid, it's being an informed reader.

    The fallacy is not that one can trust wikipedia, it's that one can (completely) trust any source.
     
  9. Sep 27, 2006 #8
    I challenge that, see:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051212/full/438900a.html

    While britannica may have fewer total errors than wikipedia it is not "far" fewer; I do not see any clear evidence from that study to suggest that one is highly preferable in terms of reliability. In particular, that study shows that britannica is clearly not reliable 100% either.

    So? A question was asked about wikipedia (people's opinion, no less) and I provided an answer about wikipedia. If I can summarize again, what I said was that the statement "wikipedia is unreliable" implies that sources like britannica are reliable (which is, in fact, exactly what you said) which is not true.
     
  10. Sep 27, 2006 #9

    ZapperZ

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    However, there IS a difference:

    1. Publications and textsbooks have someone's NAME AND REPUTATION to uphold. Thus, the work tends to be more meticulous and thought of. You'd do that when it is your reputation on the line. Can you say the same with Wikipedia?

    2. It is not done piecemeal without regard to continuity, flow, pedagogy, etc. Look at Halliday and Resnick and see how many iterations it has gone through, not simply because of accuracy, but because of pedagogical reasons!

    3. If you've read the nature report (which I had reported waaay earlier in a thread in GD), you'd notice that when Wikipedia gets it wrong, it REALLY gets it outrageously wrong, when compared to mistakes done with EB.

    4. While no source can be 100% correct (it is still a human endeavor), there ARE sources that are more trustworthy. I'd trust Hyperphysics a lot more than I would Wikipedia. I'd trust Eric Weisstein's World of Physics a lot more than I would Wikipedia. And I would certainly trust the texts that I've used and tested waaaay more than I would Wikipedia. And so do practically everyone in physics. My evidence for that? Count how many published papers that actually cite Wikipedia compare with, oh, Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics.

    5. The fact that ANYONE can get on Wikipedia and edit any entries is sufficient enough reason. Can you do the same to Halliday and Resnick?

    Zz.

    Edit: P.S. This discussion is nothing more than a rehash of a number of other previous thread. Read this:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=113664

    ...especially later in the thread when EB published a rebuttal on Nature's report.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2006
  11. Sep 27, 2006 #10

    0rthodontist

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    Wikipedia is fantastically useful in my opinion. Sure, sometimes you'll come across some things that are erroneous, but the great majority that I have seen is good (so long as you stay away from any controversial topics). Wikipedia is nearly as useful as google. If you want a summary of almost any topic at all, from pop culture to mathematics, Wikipedia is the first place to look and often all you need.

    Subtle errors? In places. But most people who are editing (non-controversial) topics are doing so because they enjoy the topics and want to share them with others, and nobody has any reason to deface them. Most technical articles that aren't stubs are excellent.

    Sometimes I love to just start on some page on Wikipedia and follow links from topic to topic. You can learn a lot and it's amazing how you get from topic A (perhaps, Lord of the Rings mythology because you came across an unfamiliar reference) to topic B (perhaps, the president of Tibet) through four or five layers of perfectly reasonable and very intriguing links. I've never gotten this kind of "surfing" experience anywhere else on the net, and it has happened frequently to me on wikipedia.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2006
  12. Sep 27, 2006 #11
    True. I also find myself looking at Wiki for those little things that nobody really writes about (like what's the difference between Ph.D, M.D, J.D etc). I can't even imagine where I would be if it wasn't for Wiki that gave me that basic information to get me started.

    I have personally used Wiki for a lot of things, mostly mathematics and philosophy. And I have never found anything that is just plain wrong ( maybe some typos here and there but nothing serious). In my experience, I would say that Wiki is a pretty reliable source.
     
  13. Sep 27, 2006 #12

    ZapperZ

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    So when you are looking up a particular topic on Wikipedia, how do you know that what you read it correct? I mean, you obviously were looking up something that you didn't know. How are you able to judge that what you read is accurate?

    Try this test. Look up Particle Accelerators on Wikipedia. Now carefully scan that page and tell me

    1. if you see anything that is outright wrong

    and

    2. anything that is utterly confusing and appears to not make any sense.

    You can't tell me that you know nothing about Particle Accelerators to be able to answer these two questions, because, obviously, you were able to make a judgement on the realiability of Wikipedia.

    Zz.
     
  14. Sep 27, 2006 #13

    0rthodontist

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    The article on particle accelerators is so far out of my range of knowledge that I can't judge it. But I can judge things that are just beyond what I know. I judge them on whether they are plausible given what I know. For example a week or so ago I was reading an article on coroutines, which contained a claim that coroutines are computationally stronger than subroutines, which are computationally stronger than loops. Since there is nothing radically different about coroutines or subroutines, and I happen to know that any program computable on a Turing machine can be implemented using loops, I can reject that claim, while still deriving all the other information from the article about what coroutines are, how they are used, etcetera. It's rare that I recognize an error like that and since I'm usually not reading stuff that's too far beyond my limits of knowledge, there probably aren't very many errors.
     
  15. Sep 27, 2006 #14

    Pythagorean

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    I suppose I don't really use Wikipedia that way. I don't use it for the detailed, technical information, I use it for a broad overview of a subject that I know nothing about, except the term (which is a more common occurence than you may think as you've indicated in your previous post. I'm a college student, I'm given terms all the time and told to find definitions. Sure there's a glossary in the back of my text book, but it's two lines from one author. If I want to actually understand my answer instead of reword a glossary notation, I turn to google and wiki first, then to the dry text books)

    Once I've familiarized myself with the concept and some of the key terms, I can do further research in my library, text books, and google. I don't mean to say Wikipedia is gospel, but it's awesomeness as a research tool can't be discounted.

    Also, consider this: If I look up something on Wikipedia, then come to you (or a physics professor), I'll have a tangible question to ask, rather than coming with a vague question or no question at all. Thanks to Wikipedia's network of links within each page, I can also quickly understand the terms being used so that I can better discuss it with you (or the physic professor).

    This seems more productive than if I never would have been able to find out what exactly I wanted to know in the first place.

    It's a lot like Aristotle. He was wrong about a lot of things, but we wouldn't be where we are in science today if it wasn't for him taking the step forward and at least trying to understand.
     
  16. Sep 28, 2006 #15

    ZapperZ

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    Look, if you have read the link that I gave on a previous discussion regarding Wikipedia, you'd notice that I clearly said that I find no problem for people who use Wikipedia as simply a starting point reference to look into something deeper. Many of those who use it that way are physicists themselves, who do know a bit about what they're looking for, and who have access to other sources that they can follow up.

    This is NOT what many people who know nothing about a lot of these topics are using it for. You have people who are using Wikipedia as their MAIN and ONLY source of information! Just sit still for a while on PF and wait - you'll encounter them soon enough! Or go troll other online forums. You'll see numerous examples of people using Wikipedia as a reliable primary source.

    I only pointed out just ONE example where there are several errors and confusing information from a Wikipedia page. I was given this page as a reference by someone who was trying to "argue" with me regarding what "particle accelerators" were! The lack of "quality control" especially in regards to pedagogy is something I commonly encounter. I could scour several more pages and find similar examples.

    Yet, people find Wikipedia "reliable" and trustworthy. It boggles my mind.

    Zz.
     
  17. Sep 28, 2006 #16

    Pythagorean

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    I absolutely agree with you fundamentally, but in practice, when those people confront someone like you, they either 1) get set straight and/or reconsider their ideas or 2) they're unconvicable of anything but what they want to believe, so they draw conclusions from the sources they wish and view you as an advisary, and want to argue... time is pretty much wasted on 2)'s.

    As for the 1) case, Wikipedia and you, ZapperZ have helped this person in both the refinement of their knowledge and (especially because of you cririticizing Wikipedia) their method of conducting research.

    I personally, would encourage the use of Wikipedia, because people will always be 1) or 2) and the 1)'s will figure it out themselves and I don't really care what the 2)'s think after I've realized they're a 2). (not to say they can't become a 1))

    I'm not saying that you should encourage Wikipedia; The purpose that you serve as a critic is an important part of the scientific method. Wikipedia could very well benefit from you critcism of it. I think a certain amount of obligation comes with knowledge:

    a) the obligation to spread it.

    This is what Wikipedia does; makes it vastly available, and easy to find, so that. This is also what I'm an advocate of. It's what Aristotle did, that eventually led to Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo... Newton...

    b) the obligation to refine and challenge it.

    This is the purpose I believe you serve, and something that I am not completely capable of, but I still have respect for it. It's very Yin and Yang. The 'apparent opposites' complement each other.

    Both a) and b) are important to scientific revolution.

    a) helps ensure good, working theories won't be labeled as crackpot, and that useful, unexplained phenomena finds the hands of intellectual talent.

    b) ensures that crackpot theories won't be labeled as reliable, working theories, and is often the intellectual talent that does refine erroneous theories.

    I apologize if this post was a waste of your time, but I do think both our opinions are beneficial to academic career and education.
     
  18. Sep 28, 2006 #17

    Pythagorean

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    PS.

    Would the professionals here be willing to work together to submit a proposal/suggestion to Wikipedia? I don't know the politics behind Wikipedia, so it may be a futile thought...

    Alernatively, you could get API or SPS to issue a statement about Wikipedia (at least about the physics section), and offer to work with Wikipedia and other physics institutions globally.... but maybe I'm dreaming.

    We students could all talk to our own physics departments too.
     
  19. Sep 28, 2006 #18

    Evo

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    I think that you're missing the point that ANYONE can post absolute rubbish on wikipedia and a lot of crackpots do. A page that one day contains accurate information can be altered by a crackpot the next day. Yes, wiki has people that try to undo the damage, but due to the volume, they can't catch it all. You simply cannot rely on the information you find in wikipedia.

    Pythagorean, there is already an internal struggle among the founders of wikipedia that is leading to an offshoot which will have tighter controls.

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=132272&highlight=wikipedia
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2006
  20. Sep 28, 2006 #19

    ZapperZ

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    This issue is no different than the issue surrounding pop-science books. The problem isn't with people who are aware that they are pop-science (i.e. the popularization of science by presenting scientific ideas in a highly superficial manner). The problem here is with people who think that pop-science IS science and thus, if they've fully understood what was written, they know all there is to know about that subject matter.

    If you have been on the 'net for any considerable period of time, you are bound to notice that there have been MANY people who do not know heads from tails about Wikipedia, and take whatever was written to be the same as what is in textbooks. The more Wikipedia get publicized and the more people keep refering to it, the more it appears to be "legitimate" and thus, it becomes an unquestioned valid source for people who do not know any better.

    There aren't that many of us who would go online and try to correct such things. We just don't have the time, especially when most of us don't rely on it, don't depend on it, and really don't particularly care if it exists or not. So it is of no benefit nor interest to most who are in this field to either correct Wikipedia, or correct the wrong info that people have gotten from it. If these are physics students, they will find out for themselves what they need from legitimate sources.

    To use Wikipedia with the hope that there would be a safety net in the form of someone around to correct the mistaken understanding is a very flimsy way of justifying its existence. If that is my attitude in writing a textbook, I would have been severely criticized and my textbook would have gone nowhere. Yet, we tolerate such mediocrity of not only information, but in the way it is presented on Wikipedia. Textbook authors spent endless hours thinking of pedagogy. Halliday and Resnick text have had detractors for many years due to not the accuracy of the info, but HOW that info was presented to make it the best way for students to learn from it. How much of such an effort do you think is done on Wikipedia.

    It is why I cringe when a claim was made that Wikipedia is no different than journal publications and physics textbooks. That is just plain outrageous.

    Zz.
     
  21. Sep 28, 2006 #20

    0rthodontist

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    The syllabus for my AI class actually includes suggested readings from Wikipedia in addition to the book. The course is taught by a professor who researches data mining and machine learning. If he thinks it's good enough, why not?

    Here's a challenge: Find 5 significant errors (beyond just typos) in technical, non-controversial articles on Wikipedia, and record how long it took you to do that from start to finish and how many articles you had to peruse. Fair game is any article you haven't yet read.
     
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